A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond
By James G. Carson, PhD email@example.com
Diocese of Chicago
Nearly 30 years ago, as an undergraduate at a venerable Episcopal liberal arts college, I became part of a prayer fellowship associated with the charismatic renewal movement. That experience wakened me to the personal significance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in a way that I had never known before, and that has enriched my life immensely ever since.
Shortly after receiving prayer with laying on of hands, by the then.rector of Truro Parish in Fairfax, Virginia, I was also granted the classic charismatic gift of praying in a language that I don't understand. I suspect that God still giggles occasionally at the irony of bestowing such a gift on such a highly cerebral and verbal person as I; nonetheless, this gift also continues to powerfully enrich my life in God right down to the present day.
But alongside my more intimate acquaintance with the second and third persons of the Trinity, I also absorbed other influences that I now view in a rather less sanguine light. Among these were a nearly idolatrous reverence for the Bible, almost as though it were God's last words dictated from His deathbed (presumably sometime around 1965); and a doctrinaire heterosexism in which it was taken for granted that homosexuality was just about the lowest, vilest, most reprehensible sin imaginable, and it was of course impossible to be both Christian and homosexual.
I also became increasingly dismayed at the extent to which I saw the charismatic movement becoming more of a divisive than a unifying influence in the life of the Church. Many of my companions in the movement frankly viewed tongues as the litmus test of true discipleship, and spoke disdainfully of various mainline Protestant churches as places where there weren't any "real Christians." Eventually I reached a point where I was no longer comfortable identifying myself as charismatic because of the extra baggage the term carried. I still rejoiced in the enrichment that the renewal movement had brought to my own spiritual life; but, to paraphrase some words of Jesus, I retreated into my closet and went on praying to my Father in secret.
As I grew in years, and hopefully in wisdom, I began to realize that the Bible was both more useful and infinitely richer when viewed as the opening chapters of a story that we are continuing to write every day in our own lives as Christians. Also, to my consternation, it began to become clear to me that I was one of those people that I believed all those things about. After several years of denial, and then of trying to reconcile myself to the celibacy I thought was required of me, I began to perceive that the Holy Spirit was leading me to a place where many of Her groupies were quite certain She never went. My sexuality was as much a good and necessary part of God's creation as that of my heterosexual peers; and the life I was called to was indeed that of an open and practicing gay man and an open and practicing Christian. Living into that calling has not always been easy; but the longer I have striven to live into it, the surer I have become that this is indeed my calling from God.
There are those among us who seem quite certain that they know exactly how the Spirit does and does not work. But if the Church learned anything from the charismatic renewal, we should have learned that, as our Savior Himself reminds us, "The Spirit blows whither it wills, and no one knows whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with those who are born of the Spirit."
Six years ago I stood wedged in a corner of the choir loft at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis as communion was administered at Integrity's General Convention Eucharist. Spontaneously, from half a dozen places at once, that best.loved of hymns, "Amazing Grace," began to swell forth from the congregation. And the electric presence I felt in that church was the same presence I had felt with the same intensity among a small circle of believers gathered in the crossing of the Kenyon College chapel two decades earlier.
In the 15th chapter of the book of Acts, we are told how the early Church confronted a problem that it had never faced before--whether and how to accept converts who were not already observant Jews. Some folks thought it was obvious that this couldn't possibly happen. But the church decided it should not stand in the way of the Holy Spirit, but welcome all those whom God was calling into their midst.
I suggest that it is this story--rather than a smattering of out.of.context verses--that provides a truly Biblical model for the Church's response to the movement for the full and equal incorporation of the sexually different. I am here to tell you that the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in this movement. Those who would deny this are, quite plainly and simply, wrong. It's time for us to follow the example of the first.century Church by getting out of the Spirit's way, welcoming all whom God is calling into our midst, holding all to uniform standards of fidelity, and providing full and equal access to every sacrament for every Episcopalian.
This essay is an expanded version of testimony before 2000 General Convention Special Committee on Human Sexuality, July 7, 2000
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